Compare the following sentences:

  • My car was stolen!
  • He stole my car!

How are these two sentences different?

  • In the first sentence we don’t know who stole the car, while in the second sentence we know that ‘he’ stole the car.

Why might the first sentence be preferred over the second sentence?

  • The speaker of the first sentence might not know who stole the car. It may also be the case that the speaker finds the fact that the car was stolen more important than who stole it. 

These are both common forms for sentences. The second sentence is in active voice, while the first sentence is in passive voice. In passive voice, the receiver of the action becomes the subject and the person performing the action is often unstated. 

How do you form the passive voice?

Active: He stole my car.

              S     V      O

Passive: My car was stolen.

               S            AUX V

My car’ goes from being the object in the active sentence to the subject in the passive sentence. The past tense of the verb ‘to be’ is added and the main verb is changed to the past participle form (stole—stolen).

*While the auxiliary is almost always the verb ‘to be’, know that it could also be the verbs ‘got’ or ‘have’. 

When is the passive voice used?

Passive voice is used when the subject doesn’t matter because it is unknown, unimportant, or so obvious that it does not need to be stated. 

The ‘doer’ of the active sentence can appear in the passive sentence by adding it in a prepositional phrase using ‘by’.

The ‘doer’ normally appears when:

  • The ‘doer’ is very well-known.—The poem was written by Shakespeare.
  • The ‘doer’ isn’t human.—The carrot was eaten by the rabbit.
  • The ‘doer’ presents new information.—The car was stolen by my neighbor!